In our previous blog post, we discussed ways that your small business can incorporate the “Back to School” season into your advertising and marketing. We also briefly discussed the difference between passively celebrating a holiday or an event and actively incorporating elements of a common experience shared by a majority of people into your advertising and marketing. This distinction is an important one.

Passive Incorporation vs. Active Incorporation

When you passively incorporate a holiday or an event into your marketing, the process involves little more than mentioning the holiday or event, such as holding a sale or promotion to make people want to buy from your business. Yet it is much more meaningful when you are able to actively incorporate elements of the holiday or event into your marketing with the intention of evoking the memories, and the emotions associated with those memories, of a shared culture experience. While one sounds more interesting and potentially more effective than the other, both can be used effectively or catastrophically, depending on the nature and the context of the holiday or event.

The Benefits of Incorporating Shared Experiences

Imagine two commercials you may see during the holiday season. In one, the owner of a small business provides a brief but genuine and personal holiday greeting to the public at large. Yet in another, actors are shown engaging in traditional holiday activities such as sharing a holiday meal, exchanging gifts, and visiting relatives. In the first commercial, the business is presenting you with a holiday greeting, while the second is actually invoking the shared experiences many of us have during the holiday season. It’s no surprise that you may see the latter as being more effective and engaging than the former. This is a perfect example of how incorporating the shared experiences many of us have over the course of many holiday seasons can give a positive and even permanent boost to your brand awareness and engagement with the public.

The Risks Of Incorporating Some Shared Experiences

Since the advent of the Internet and the rising popularity of social media, the most damaging marketing and advertising misfires have fallen into two camps. First, a damaging or embarrassing post or comment was accidently released to the public due to some manner of accident or carelessness via an official marketing or advertising channel. Second, a cultural milestone or event was incorporated into an advertising or marketing campaign in an inappropriate or offensive manner. Most of us cringe when we think of examples. The worst could be those businesses who incorporate imagery from a national tragedy such as 9/11, or featuring the “ghost” of a dead child chastising careless parents in an advertisement. No matter how embarrassing or obviously misguided those examples may be, each year at least a handful of companies, even large corporations with teams of advertising and marketing experts and consultants on hand, continue to provide new ones.

Acceptable And Appropriate Behavior

How do teams of experienced and highly-educated experts make these catastrophic errors in judgement? In some cases it is motivated by the belief that by taking what they may believe to be a calculated risk that they can create a successful campaign, even if they invoke a shared negative experience in order to generate shock and garner attention. In other cases there is simply a disconnect between what they believe to be acceptable and appropriate and what is actually appropriate to the general public. Large corporations like AT&T and Nationwide have an established reputation and the vast resources to weather the storm generated by a marketing or advertising disaster. Yet your small business likely does not, and one such disaster could prove to be devastating to the ongoing viability of your small business. For that reason, it is best to treat any negative or tragic shared experience as “nuclear” to your advertising and marketing. If you absolutely feel the need to post something that may cause a backlash, limit any mention to a respectful and short acknowledgement posted to your blog or social media accounts.